Byline: David Moin / With contributions by Anamaria Wilson
NEW YORK--Even without all the fanfare and flash of a normal fashion week, retailers attending the New York designer showings liked what they saw, and it wasn't just the fashion. It was the way designers responded to the crisis that befell the city and country the week before, working amid the most trying circumstances. "It's awfully hard to evaluate this season because of what has been going on in New York," said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale's. "But considering what they went through--bad fabric deliveries and the mayhem with the scheduling--American designers were very resourceful. You have to call it a strong season. Nobody just sat back. Everybody did what they could to make exciting fashion happen." "Designers did the appropriate thing in doing smaller presentations for press and retailers," said Peter Rizzo, president of Bergdorf Goodman. "You could feel the unity in the city and in our industry as well. Everybody is enormously pained by this, and trying to carry on. In this business, we are not dealing with life-crisis issues. You are dealing with apparel and, under these circumstances, it's not always an easy thing--shopping for a suit, planning a vacation. The designers were all very, very keenly sensitive to it." "This was a very touching week," added Jaqui Lividini, Saks Fifth Avenue's senior vice president of fashion merchandising. "Michael Kors said some beautiful things, about how proud he was to be an American, and a New Yorker. Ralph did the same thing. Oscar greeted everybody after the show and spoke to everyone. Those moments brought a whole new dimension to the industry. The fashion shows were very pared down. In light of the current events, the spareness was also touching, and partly because of that, you really did get to see and appreciate the clothes." For Julie Gilhart, vice president of fashion merchandising at Barneys New York, the shows struck just the right tone. "The presentations were so heartfelt, and they were put together in such a sensitive way." She also found that the muted presentations made it even more personal. "The presentations were edited down to what were really important pieces. I thought everything was done with the minimal amount of hype and the maximum amount of thought to what the retailers actually needed." As far as the major trends, there was what Saks termed "globe-trotter, ethnic diversity," while Bloomingdale's labeled the look "sophisticated gypsy," with peasant touches, blousy looks, tiered skirts, embroidery and beadings. Other trends were soft tailoring in suits with fishtail or asymmetric hemlines and jersey dresses with new kinds of seaming. The major designers who did show generally came through, Ruttenstein said. "The standout collection of the period was Ralph Lauren," who showed sophisticated and innocent gypsy looks, with off-the-shoulder blouses, tiered skirts, fringed shawls, and a white and cream palette. Ruttenstein also cited Calvin Klein's beautifully seamed jersey dresses; Marc Jacobs's dresses with a lot of movement, ruffles and patchwork colors; Max Azria for BCBG's young, spirited fashion-forward collection; Anna Sui's "innocent" gypsy look with knee socks and a touch of Victoriana; Donna Karan's sculptural dresses and cheerful bright prints for evening and full skirts, "the newest silhouette of the season." With Ralph Lauren concluding the major showing, "the mood turned from negative and fearful, to positive and hopeful," Ruttenstein said. "The way he came out and spoke to the audience, telling people that he believes in heroes and 'you have to dream,' was moving." Two young designers that Bloomingdale's plan to sell for the first time next spring are Behnaz Sarafpour and Christine Ganeaux. The store also singled out another young designer line, Pierre Carrilero for Pierrot. Bloomingdale's recently began selling the label and plans to go forward with it. Lividini called Lauren's collection "head-to-toe perfection." She also cited Badgely Mischka's embroideries and beading and the simple elegance of Narciso Rodriguez. Other strong collections cited by Saks included Bill Blass, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Carolina Herrera.